Travel Reference
In-Depth Information
While some paladares are run out of large rented locations, the majority still oper-
ate from private homes which transform into intimate restaurants each evening.
The locations of many formal, sit down paladares are not clearly marked on street
level signage, so they can be difficult to find. These paladares generally rely on
word of mouth advertising. On some occasions, they will hire people to stand in
front of the restaurant or on busy street corners to solicit clients. There are spe-
cialized guidebooks which rate and list directions for individual paladar locations,
and for the traveler who is particularly keen on going to these establishments,
those references would offer guidance.
From a personal standpoint, I am not a huge fan of dining in formal paladares. I
find that the prices are often inflated, even by western standards, and the quality
of food is highly variable. In the Popular and Cheap Restaurants section of this
guide I review and provide directions to several sit down paladars which I found to
be particularly good.
Independent Quick Food Restaurants (Street food)
A chiringo is a Cuban slang name given to a small, fast food dining
establishment. Usually these establishments will offer only informal bench
seating, or no seats at all. In almost all cases, these fast food locations operate
out of the ground floor of a residential house or sometimes out of a converted
carport or terrace space located at the front of the property. Some are nothing
more than food carts, cooking and selling items on a street corner. Regardless of
where they may be situated, most of the food sold at these locations is
homemade daily.
While very popular with locals, foreigners are often reluctant to try food from these
street side vendors. There is a perception that these locations are unhygienic or
that they offer inferior quality food. In reality, the truth is the exact opposite. These
small restaurateurs pay high taxes to operate their businesses and the Cuban
health authorities routinely inspect the locations. From my experience, most of the
food sold from these locations is both unique and of very high quality. From
simple, glazed donuts, to the most elaborate pork and rice dishes, served in card-
board takeaway boxes called cajitas , these chiringos offer a very low cost, quick,
and delicious way to experience Cuban cuisine.
Menus often change throughout the day and most selections are priced at 10
pesos (MN) or less. Trust the locals to know which chiringos offer the best foods
at the cheapest prices. These locations will often have long lineups, stretching out
onto the sidewalk, and it is common for the best operators to sell out of food after
particularly busy periods. When I see a large crowd of locals around a particular
chiringo, I always join the line and eagerly await tasting whatever specialty they
are serving.
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